So it was my birthday, and my family organized the weekend to end all weekends for me. I was kidnapped, hijacked, spirited away to a fancy resort hotel at the Dead Sea, where my husband and I were treated to an all-expenses-paid Shabbat on the business-class floor of the Isrotel.
Really, it was stunning. The food was marvelous. The service, cordial. My daughter Cobi who works there, showed up Saturday night with her boyfriend Michoel and they took us out for dinner (think about the logic here, folks) in the hotel. The restaurant charged them a mere fortune-and-a-half for the steak dinners they absolutely insisted we eat. My husband of course obliged. I could not -- there was no room left. I forced down some chicken and called it a night.
But it was the gift of Sunday morning that really was the piece de resistance, the challenge to end all challenges. My family treated me to a Seaweed Wrap.
It had begun a week earlier, when Cobi artlessly inquired at the Shabbos table, "What do you think, would Olga (her friend) prefer mud, or seaweed?" I must have looked as confused as I felt, because she clarified -- "We are planning a surprise for her, and I was wondering what you thought she would prefer. Which is better? Which is more pleasant, more therapeutic? Mud, or seaweed?" I of course assured her that seaweed is a better bet -- after all, we who live in Arad can get Dead Sea mud whenever we want it!
Silly me. "You have a Seaweed Wrap at 9:30 am," she informed me when I checked in, in a daze on Friday. To my husband, she said, "And you have an anti-stress massage at the same hour. Now don't be late!" she admonished us both with a grin.
And now here I was, Sunday morning. "Today I am going to make for you a Seaweed Wrap" proclaimed the attendant, a sturdy blonde Russian woman of indeterminate age.
The massage table was covered in blue saran wrap. It looked a little odd.
"Take everything off," she directed, handing me two gauzy-looking fluff balls. "These are disposable underwear and a hair covering. Don't worry if the underwear don't fit -- anyway I will cover you." She then produced a bowl filled with green powder. "This," she announced, "is the seaweed wrap." Uh huh. "I am going to go prepare it while you get undressed."
Lovely. "When you are ready, please sit on the table." I began to wonder if she had had a past life as a gynecologist.
The room was not warm. At the Dead Sea, this is supposed to be an added benefit in the summer.
Returning, she began to slather the green goop, which was now wet, hot, and drippy, on to my back and the backs of my arms and neck. Once covered, she directed me to lie down, and then proceded to shmear the rest of it ALL over me. Everywhere. When it was all used up, she tucked my hands beside me at my sides, beneath my hips, and then wrapped the saran wrap sheet around me like a mummy. (hence the 'wrap' -- get it?)
She followed that by wrapping a sheet around the saran wrap. And then she wrapped a heavy blanket around the sheet that was wrapped around the saran wrap.
"You will stay here for 30 minutes," she instructed. "I am leaving."
"I will be back and forth, I will come in to the room, and check on you, and then leave. You will try to relax, and rest. Okay?"
Did I have a choice?
Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Oh, and my name is Shachaf." She peered at me. "How do you feel? Is everything okay?"
Oh yes. Dandy.
"Goodbye. Rest." She turned the lights down low and stalked out. Over the speakers set into the ceiling, I could hear the sounds of waves crashing softly against the surf, the Dead Sea version of the Pacific Ocean music bed.
And then the ultimate of ironies -- cool jazz, "I could have danced all night." I could not believe it. The sweat began to trickle down into my right ear. Squirming did not help. Resistance was useless.
"I can do this," I told myself. "My ancestors were Russian too. I am tough. I will survive." I resigned myself to suffer in silence. The music changed. More waves. A new selection, and drops of sweat began to tickle my waist. "Let my people go," softly wailed the clarinet.
A tap on my shoulder. It startled me. "Everything okay?"
More music. It took a long time. But 20 minutes more, and Shachaf flicked the brights into action as she started peeling layers away from my sweat-streaked body. "I will help you shower this off," she informed me.
Great. I can't remember the last time I soiled myself so badly that I had to have someone else clean me up. When I looked down, however, I understood: I was a bright, slimy kelly green, the kind of a color that even a lizard mother couldn't possibly love.
No more objections. I let her clean me up. I thanked her for the experience.
I even tipped her.
Isn't that what a birthday is all about?